April 4, 1995, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewer: Giles R. Wright
A seventy-seven year-old black native Philadelphian, Reginald W. Maddox, recalled a particular incident of racial discrimination he experienced while serving in the navy during World War II. He described this incident in the following manner:
After we finished our basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago, we were sent to the Millington Naval Air Station in Tennessee. At this base, several miles north of Memphis, I underwent training as an aviation machinist mate for about six months. At the completion of this training, around October of 1943, I, along with eleven other black seamen, was transferred to the naval air base at Pasco, Washington. In order to get there, we took a buts to Memphis where we were to get a train that would carry us to Seattle. We arrived at the train station and, after getting off the bus, marched to an area close to the entrance to the station’s restaurant for whites. As we stood there, we could see into this restaurant. And inside we saw a group of about thirty fellows dressed in brown shirts with large white letters that said “PW.” These letters reached from the shoulder to the waist, front and back. We didn’t know who they were. One of us asked the white seaman in charge of us who they were. And we were told that they were German prisoners of war. This caught everyone’s attention for a moment or two. And someone said, “Daggone Germans can go in there and we can’t. Isn’t this something.” And we were thinking that here we have on the uniform of this nation and the people who we are fighting against — who might have to shoot at us and we at them — are able to go into a restaurant that we can’t enter. But they were white, and white was right. So, we didn’t think about it too long because we knew we were in the South where there were the regular signs everywhere saying “White” and “Colored.” So we marched on off, went around the back, upstairs, to the station’s colored restaurant, and waited for our train.
Prepared by Deborah Mercer and Edith Beckett of the New Jersey State Library.
Copyright 2003 © by the New Jersey Historical Commission,
New Jersey Department of State.
All rights reserved.
Please direct questions and comments to Deborah Mercer.
Updated:Thursday, April 24, 2003